Two ferries back and forth across the Irish Sea, 3 countries in as many days, and a whole lot of car miles. The bank holiday weekend is over and I’m on to stage two of my adventure. Continue reading
It’s our second day on the hills and I already know I’ve made new friends that will share plenty more adventures. What a bunch of super characters we’ve brought together in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountain and the soft, moist breezes from the Mediterranean Sea. We start with Continue reading
My heart is bursting – and it’s only day one. It’s not bursting from effort, or exertion, or altitude or attitude – it’s bursting because I’m among friends, doing wonderful things, in a Continue reading
I’m pretty much in the ‘lost and found’ category at the moment. When I decided to climb one of the Seven Summits, I was fighting fit and looking forward to training hard for six-months of mountain prep. The year started well, heading off to practice walking on snow and ice in Scotland in January, heading to Norway in February to play in the snow and check out my gear in some really freezing temperatures. I had a year-planner and Excel chart, all colour-coded, with gym, yoga, swimming, cycling, mountains… it was all going brilliantly and then I fell.
I cut my leg badly when I slipped on a rock, out running on Spinc in Wicklow. I got it stitched and thought I’d be back in a flash, but people wiser than me were proved right when I couldn’t really use my knee for the next 6 weeks. Even then it was a full two months before I could train properly.
In the meantime I was starting my own business which was great, but stressful and strangely lonely, because I am used to working in a big office environment and now I am based at home. They don’t tell you about that in ‘entrepreneur school!’ I was sitting at home; bored, sore, stressed and a bit scared – with a fridge sitting behind me and I’m sorry to say that I put on a couple of stone in as much time as it takes to pick up a sandwich! So with six weeks to go, I had to face loss of fitness coupled with carrying more weight.
I hope I’ve done enough. I kept practising my yoga while sitting on a chair and working out in the gym with my leg isolated from the routines, and I finally got back into the sea to start swimming again. I have worked really hard in the last month, balancing training against protecting my injured knee and losing weight. I also got a huge amount of help and advice from friends, colleagues and online through Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention Tony Nation from Pat Falvey Irish & Worldwide Adventures – who literally ‘walked the legs off me’ over the gorgeous Galtee Mountains in the last few weeks.
I’ve lost a stone, but I’m still overweight for my height. Training after an injury was a difficult dilemma to find myself in, with a whole range of advice, which came down to the same thing: “be patient and don’t overdo it”. It was deeply frustrating, and again, I hope I’ve done enough. I just do not know if there is enough in the tank to get me up that cold, icy, incline that will bring me to the top of Europe. I’ve lost fitness, my size 14 shape, and a bit of confidence. I’ve found friends, knowledge, insight, technique, and a new business.
The countdown is almost over. We fly from Dublin to London on Thursday, then fly to Moscow – and the big adventure kicks off on July 11th. I’ll be blogging whenever I have signal and power and I have a friend who has agreed to pass on messages if I don’t get to update Facebook or Twitter for a few days. I’ll report in full by July 25th.
This is the last time I am going to be thinking about fears or failure. Like Pandora’s box, I know I need to put doubt back under cover and lock down the lid. I am as good as I can be and that’s as good as it gets. I am off to climb Elbrus…. x
“New Zealand?” “Nah, Australia mate”. I heard the soft Cork accent of my guide, Tony Nation, chatting to the tanned tourists as I bent down behind the car, to lace up my hiking boots, following the drive down to Mitchelstown from Dublin. “Damn, I always get that wrong” commented Tony “it’s like me going to Nepal and someone calling me English instead of Irish” he added. Strolling around from the back of the car I glanced at the walkers, taking in the scene. Greetings were exchanged and I casually faced our antipodean friends. “Australia?” I asked, with a glint in my eye. “Yep, that’s right” they replied in unison. “Ah, well I couldn’t miss that fine, distinct Australian accent.” A slight pause and the couple burst out laughing. “You were listening” they accused. Tony reaches to give me a clatter, falling just short of my ear. It’s the craic and easy friendship among walkers that helps make these adventures so special.
The Australian walkers checked a few local routes with us before heading for the hills and we were left alone, a group of three. Tony my friend and guide for the day, Karen Hill a fellow walker and Facebook buddy and myself. We head for Lough Muskry and hike begins. We’re chatting and catching up, and we set out at a fast clip on fresh legs. By the time we caught sight of the lake I was already feeling the pull. The sun was splitting rocks, I’m not used to walking in our rare Irish sun and I’d set off far too fast. Fortunately today was going to be a long day rather than a short sprint, so I don’t think the others minded when I slowed the pace a little.
I wasn’t sure of the route and Tony was being a bit mysterious, he was hanging onto his map and all I knew was I’d never seen this section of the Galtees before and I really wasn’t having much luck identifying the peaks around me. Look hard he said, what’s in front of you, what’s over to the right? I felt disorientated spotting what seemed to be Galtymore, with Galtybeg in front of it and on the left. From where I was standing they were the wrong way around, being used to climbing the Galtee’s ‘highest hill’ from the common ‘tourist route’ which is up the Black Road from the M8. Suddenly I realise I’m standing on the other side of the range. Tony had turned his mountain on its head. I grab the map and stare as I realise we are standing to the North of the Galtees looking across to the South. I’m a bit nervous about the distance we’re planning, it’s clearly going to be a loop because we’ve parked all the cars in one spot – but I can see from Tony’s chuckle that he’s planning another long one. Last week he took me from Temple Hill; across Lyracappu, Carraig na Binne, Sliabh Chois na Binne to Galtymore in a massive sweep across the range from West to East. I could hardly imagine what was on the menu for today and I was tired already after the quick march in to the start.
Off we go, veering to our left and heading to Fear Bréige our first summit at 724m – it was a steep pull up, but the warm weather had left the ground dry and easy underfoot. You could clearly see from the dried mossy soup, how boggy it can be under normal conditions. As we reached the top, I was feeling the heat and sweating hard, but we had a sloping recovery before pushing up to neighbouring An Grianán at 802m. From views of the lake, I was now captivated by the conglomerate ‘castle’ I could clearly see in the distance. Descending to O’Lochlainn’s Castle, both Karen and I were hungry for explanations and folklore from Tony – just as the midges descended hungry for all of us. Eaten alive is the best expression, as we battled to steal lunch while beating away the swarms of vicious little flies that were intent on defending their fortress and forcing us on. The ‘castle’ is a natural rock formation near the summit. A conglomerate of sedimentary sand and pebbles, formed long ago, in the same waves and ice that formed the corries and cliffs, carved out of this rich, red, sandstone range. The formation looks for the entire world like a cathedral or castle from a distance, and still looks eerie and out of place when you arrive at its weather beaten ledges. The temptation for a little bouldering on the rough rocks was too hard to resist, and we played for a while like kids in the sun, before moving on our way.
I’m midge bitten, glad of my sunscreen, amazed by the heat, and well aware that I’ve come close to the end of my two litres of water – so it was a relief to skip over Galtybeg (799m) and into the saddle before facing into Cush at 640m. I slowed to a crawl as I pulled up here, lifting my face fractionally to pick up the slightest breeze as I neared the summit. I am hoping to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia with Irish adventurer Pat Falvey next month, and Tony reminded me that a slog like this is something similar to the incline I’ll be facing there. I dug in and kept moving, although I felt it, and was painfully aware of how slowly I was moving behind Tony and Karen. My fitness still leaves a lot to be desired.
Cush is a gorgeous mountain and the panorama from the summit was worth the effort of the climb. Tony was working from his map now, as he navigated a route down a spur to get us off the mountain and through a wooded valley to bring us back to our cars. This is where my navigation falls apart and where I’m so impressed by those who are handier with a map than me. Tony predicted a hill, a river, a crossing, and a woodland trail; and they all appeared like clockwork on demand. I was furiously thirsty now and turned Bear Grylls when we reached the river; wading into the faster flow to fill my water bottle and drink hungrily, if somewhat nervously, thinking of the old, but still identifiable, sheep remains we’d seen littered across the mountain. Tony remarked that the water probably wouldn’t kill me before I had time to get to a doctor for an antibiotic! Comforting words indeed, but I’ll be adding a couple of sterilising tablets to my emergency kit in future.
We spent 8hrs on the mountain and it was absolutely beautiful, but my feet were glad to see the cars emerging from the trail, precisely as Tony predicted. Lessons learned? I was glad I wore sunblock and midge-spray, glad I wore my lighter boots, wish I’d brought more water, will definitely bring sterilising tablets in future on long, hot hikes… and I really want to practice navigating so that I can lead to a point like Tony.
On Saturday I got to join the Roving Soles Hill Walking Club for part of their Glenmalure Challenge. I got to finish 6 summits and around 24k in 7hrs – they went on to complete 10 summits and 33k. We started from the Glenmalure Lodge, Drumgoff and headed south on the Wicklow Way, taking a forest road for our assent of Carrawaystick Mountain to Corrigasleggaun, to the Saddle of Lugcoolmeen, and up to the summit of Lugnaquilla, Leinster’s highest peak at 931 metres. We descended via Cannow Mountain to Camenabolologue, and I cut out at Table Track for Glenmalure, as the group continued on their way. Thanks to everyone for such a warm welcome on the hill, especially with me hobbling along with my knee braces and sticks. Extremely lovely group… and the bubbles were a bonus!
From Wicklow, I drove to Cork city, catching dinner with a friend before heading on to Youghal where I camped near the sea, ahead of an early 6am start for the DipInTheNip. Close to 200 people joined on a beach near the town to drop their kit and run for the waves, in aid of cancer charities. Old radio buddy PJ Coogan from Cork 96FM led the charge. After a breakfast roll on the beach, I headed for Kerry, pitched my tent in view of the mountains, met briefly with friends, took a two hour stroll in Tomies Wood and finished off a perfect rest-and-recovery day with a plunge into the beautiful ice-cold O’Sullivan’s Cascade, a stunning series of waterfalls and grade 5 kayak route plunging down through the mountains to the lakes of Killarney. Always a magical place for me.
On to the Galtees on Monday, for a tough 8.5hr training hike over 5 mountains with Tony Nation, in preparation for my challenge to climb Elbrus in Russia next month with Pat Falvey’s Irish and Worldwide Adventures. Tony had warned me in advance that today would be tough and he certainly delivered. It was an arduous route, but so incredibly beautiful that it was hard to feel anything other than joy to be out on the hill. We made our way up on to the mountain with a tough climb onto Temple Hill, and climbed up and down around the horseshoe across Ladhar an Chapaill, Carraig na Binne, and Sliabh Chois na Binne, over to Galtymore and exiting down the BlackRoad. Later we heard on the news that a couple of climbers had been rescued after getting caught in a Rhododendron forest, not too far away on the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was a cautionary tale, as I’d been admiring the purple flowered shrubs all day, but Tony had been warning me about their rampant, vigorous growth across the mountains.
Tuesday brought another adventure, when myself and a friend provided kayak-cover for a group of swimmers who were making a crossing from Malahide to Lambay Island, as part of a top-secret art project. We had kind permission to land briefly on the island, which is a nature reserve, and it was a wonderful privilege to have just a fleeting glance at this wonderful, magical place. It was a beautiful day as we headed off into a clear, calm sea, and the crossing was delightfully uneventful until moments before we reached the island. A sea-mist sprung up in seconds, shrouding our landing point in mist. Our approach was marked by dozens of curious seals who heralded our arrival and followed us in to the star-fish spangled beach. We stayed just moments before slipping back into the sea and leaving the peaceful island to it’s misty mystery. A magical experience to add to my list of special memories of Ireland.
A good weekend of training, celebrating friendship and being glad to be alive. Reality returns when I visit the physio tomorrow and get some advice on my injured knee. The Elbrus Clock continues to tick.
My thighs hurt, my calves hurt, my shoulders hurt, my ankles hurt, my fingers hurt…. what’s wrong with me? Oh yes, I’m back from training in Kerry’s high peaks. My neck hurts too.. in fact, the only thing that doesn’t hurt is my knee – which is great news, because that’s supposed to be my weakest bit. So I’ve kept my dodgy knee safe, and worked everything else. Result.
I have 31 days left, before I head off to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus with Pat Falvey Irish & Worldwide Adventures, and after getting injured earlier this year, I’m really running out of time. I’m back in the gym, doing yoga, cycling, using weights, running and swimming – I’m doing everything I can to be fit in time. I’m fairly confident that I’m fit enough to train properly now, but I’m running out of time to get hill-fit, and every day counts. All my friends have been called into action, to give me company out on the hill. It’s all to play for, and I’m not giving up.
This is the second weekend I’ve spent in Kerry. Last weekend, Pat Falvey and Alpinist John Higgs, invited me to Carrauntoohil for a ropes and crevasse rescue course. This weekend Pat and instructor Tony Nation had me back out on the hills – this time at 2am, beating back the rain and mist to find sunrise over the Kerry Reeks, after many hours of climbing and ploughing through bog. I was piggy-backing with a gang of girls who are training for a trip to Kilimanjaro. It was tough going, and when we reached the summit of Cnoc Na Braca, all I was fit for was huddling into the rocks and feasting on a tuna-wrap, which tasted a bit like mana from heaven.
Six hours of hiking through darkness into a relentless Kerry rainstorm was enough to test the best of gear and spirits, but as we got to the top, the rain eased, a brief shimmer of sunlight emerged and the mist lifted just long enough for a few photos while we ate lunch, giving us a tantalising glimpse of the beautiful view over the Black Valley, before closing in again, shutting down, and punishing us the whole way back down the hill. Kerry can be a bit like that at times. I found going down harder than going up, and was relieved to reach the valley floor and head back to Pat’s Mountain Lodge for a full Irish cooked by the boys, which was a truly unexpected treat!
For a while I thought I’d made a mistake going out with the group. I’ve been letting my leg heal for a few months now and I was worried that perhaps the long haul over the uneven, soggy, bog, would have caused new damage. But I woke up this morning, stiff everywhere else, but ‘sound of knee’, so I’m relieved, and ready to keep stepping up the pressure.
It could have been a lot worse of course. Pat had ‘threatened me’ with his ‘Survival on Carrauntoohil Bootcamp’ to help with my fitness. I got to see how that looked when the Adrigole GAA team turned up on Saturday morning at Cronin’s Yard. The guys were faced with Pat Falvey, Tony Nation and two Military Instructors who put them through their paces. I watched as they carried ‘casualties’ across the mountain, using shovels and pick-axe to dig out channels, dragging under camouflage canopies, and struggling through icy mountain streams, as the mist and rain beat them back into the bog. Those lads were WICKED.
Parting shot from Pat as I left the lodge? “Goodbye now girl, and you know, you could try climbing a few mountains…” I guess I’m heading back to Kerry next weekend.
I’ve just heard from Travel Department that our walking holiday in Spain is ‘flying out the door’. We’ve been planning the trip since last year, but all of a sudden I feel it’s really happening and I’m getting a thrill of excitement about meeting new friends and ‘walking my way to fitness’ surrounded by blue skies, high mountains, plunging rivers, snowy white villages and a full week of adventure and exploration.
We’ll be staying in a tiny little hotel nestled above the Poqueira River that carries snowmelt from the ice-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains to the sea. We will walk along the river gorge to the abandoned settlement of Le Cebadilla and stay in the hillside town of Capileira, the gateway to the mountains and the highest village that public traffic can reach…. relaxing after each day’s adventure with wine and tapas at the hotel pool. Capileira is the highest of the ancient, little, white villages that appear to
cling to the mountainside as though about to slide into the Poqueira Gorge. At an altitude of 1436 metres, it is one of the highest towns on the Iberian Peninsular.
A holiday is such an important part of the year; we need to come back with memories that will last for a lifetime. I’m confident that Spain’s magnificent Sierra Nevada will deliver. We’ve signed up local walking guides to show us all the special places and answer all our questions. Along with the stunning mountains and river gorge we get to explore the fortress of Alhambra in Granada. Dating from 889, Alhambra was rebuilt to grace Muslim Emirs before being claimed by Christian Monarchs and then European scholars. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and just one of the many adventures on our list. We travel to the coast to the beautiful Salobrena Castle, have a full day sightseeing and shopping in Granada and still have time to sit by the pool at our charming rural hotel Finca Los Llanos.
This is a holiday that combines walking, leisure and culture. We’ll divide the trip into different groups, depending on how active you want to be. I like to walk slowly and enjoy all the beauty of the mountains, so there’s no pressure to be ‘speedy’ if you’re coming with me. The average walking distance is 8k on hilly terrain with some steep inclines, so bring trekking shoes and a walking pole. There’s a discount on your equipment and clothing at Great Outdoors, Dublin, if you’re going on this trip!
We leave with Aer Lingus on October 1st – but the holiday has started booking heavily in the last week, so don’t leave it until the last moment. Visit Travel Department’s website and have a look around our hotel’s picture gallery. If you’ve got any questions, give me a shout on my email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Spain.
I sit for a moment in the car, huddled against the blast from the heater. Peering out through the misty windscreen I can see cloud shrouding the top of the mountain. I don’t normally need encouragement to get out into the hills, but this morning I feel that I need a cattle prod to get me moving. It’s the beginning of May and the start of the summer but the weather looks more like mid-November. It’s cloudy, misty and quite cold and I grimace as I open the door and climb out, reaching for boots and waterproofs.
The car-park here in Glendalough is virtually empty. That’s unusual for this time of year and a clear sign of how gloomy the day is looking. I sigh and surprise myself by considering a retreat, but I’ve driven an hour from the city to get here and it would be silly to turn back now. Adjusting my walking poles, I start to stroll towards the upper lake, and turning left, head to the bridge that leads towards the Poulanass Waterfall.
The plan is to stroll along the ‘white’ loop-walk; up over Spinc Mountain, across the bridge over the Glenealo River and down through the Miners’ Village to the Upper Lake. I warm up quickly as step out towards the wooded trail. Birds are singing everywhere in the rain dampened trees and the crackle and splash of the waterfall gets louder as I approach. It drowns out the patter of raindrops but the birds still pipe loudly through the cascade. Pausing for a moment I wonder about the power of the water dropping here to pools carved out of rock, from a hanging valley formed in the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. I wonder what the water feels like, how cold? I always promise to stop here during the summer when I’m warm and sticky after a long hike, take off my boots and plunge my feet into the white froth. Somehow I always forget. This year I’ll do it; definitely.
I reach the junction where I need to swing right for Spinc or left for the Derrybawn Ridge. I hesitate, with no sense of urgency in my mind. I meant to train hard today, to set a pace and work on my fitness, but I’m reluctant to push up into the cloud. Instead I potter around the river and take some photos of the water tumbling over the rocks. I’m familiar with the terrain around here and I have a map and compass; and so on a whim, I veer off the trail and into the woodland pushing ahead on an adventure and leaving the high trails behind.
Within moments, the roar of the waterfall is behind me, along with the brash, glare of the multi-hued, green riverbank. I’m entering into a carpeted, hushed arena beneath the bared bark of conifers stretching so high and thick above my head that the rain and cloud are banished. The change of atmosphere is dramatic, like stepping from the light and noise of a busy street into the sombre chambers of a cathedral. The light is amber, shaded by the canopy above and tinted by the russet carpet of fallen pine-needles and cones beneath my feet. Invisible birds make sounds all around me. I think I’m treading softly, but they hear the fine snap of twigs beneath my feet and clearly keep their distance.
I follow a gentle incline, moving steadily upward through the forest. I know Derrybawn is on my left and Mullacor is on my right and slightly ahead; but I don’t intend to push ahead that far. Reaching a fire-wall, I veer left, to meet a small stream rushing down from the ridge. I come back out into the light. There is no trail here and I have the river to myself. I potter around taking photos; and find I’m smiling and grinning at the sight of saplings and ferns unfolding, and clover in flower. This little glen has infrequent visitors and it’s showing no hesitation in sharing its secrets with me. I can almost imagine fairies dancing here in early morning sunbeams. Briefly I remember how it felt to lie beneath the yellow gorse in Roscommon as a kid fresh arrived from London; smelling the vanilla-scented pods of the furze, trying to whistle through stands of grass, watching fluffy clouds against a blue sky and dreaming of fantasy and wonder.
Eventually, I drag myself away from the magic glen and follow the river back towards the trails. I swing up left towards Spinc and climb the 600 wooden steps to the observation post high above the valley. Taking in the stunning views, I catch my breath. That will do for training for today! I swing down past Kevin’s Bed; the now inaccessible cave believed to have been used as a retreat by St Kevin and later for St. Laurence O’Toole; and down to the Upper Lake, past the 11th Century Reefert Church, the burial ground for the Clan O’Toole – the local kings or rulers.
Walking back towards the car to dump my damp gear in the boot, I glance at a teenage girl, dragging herself reluctantly from her dad’s jeep with a gloomy sigh. I smile as we pass each other, and I comment that I didn’t feel like going up myself this morning, but it was worth it when I got out there. “Really?” she replied. Not a bored ‘teenage’ reply, more hopeful and pleasant. Encouraged, I laughed and explained how I nearly drove back to Dublin without getting my boots wet, but ended up being thrilled by flowering clover, clever birds and silver spider webs caught in herbs and heather.
She smiled and said OK and headed for the hill. She may have been inspired, or maybe she thought I was ‘off with the fairies’. Although, I suppose, that could be inspiring too. Who can ever know what lies under a mountain of cloud and gloom? Like life itself, it’s often worth pushing on and giving things a chance. I may not have covered many kilometres of incline today, but I had fun and fed my soul. Sometimes it’s good to put the training regime aside and just enjoy the outdoors for its beauty and timeless simplicity. I’ve learned already, you can move mountains, just by ‘walking your way to fitness’.
I ‘Walked The Line’ and I proudly get to wear the T-shirt, and raise the mug – thanks for a brilliant workout from Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue. Their mega annual fundraiser had two challenges, a navigational chase and a straightforward 25k hike for those who were willing to follow the signs! I chose the latter, but the physical demands were no joke. It was a tough, long day out and I came home delighted in just over 6 hours. To be honest, I had a secret weapon, the latter part of the hike was down through Spinc – my favourite mountain. I was actually heard to say ‘this is my patch’ as I trotted down the stones towards the Miners’ Village – and you know I meant it. Yep I guess I’m declaring it. Spinc is MY mountain – so there! (I’m not actually being facetious – that mountain rescued me from being 23 stone and stuck in a cell of my own skin, and my own making. I owe a lot to that mountain). The other benefit from ‘Walk the Line’ was accidentally turning up just 2-minutes before registration closed, and ending up ‘walking the line’ on my own, which I hadn’t really planned. It left me picking out way-paths and finding my way around the hills in a way I hadn’t done before – and I learned a lot – lessons that came in handy later in the week….
A trip to Lough Sheelin cooled my heels after Wicklow – when I turned up to provide boat cover for my brave ‘Get Off The Couch’ colleague Karen Bowers, who swam her first 1k ‘wild swim’ in the beautiful County Cavan lake, surrounded by master swimmers and the fantastic long-distance swimmer, Fergal Somerville, who turned up to coach her, after recently adding an elusive North Channel Crossing to his previous English Channel crossing. That man is inspiration in a set of speedos, and I have permission from his wonderful wife Margaret to say so. (Incidentally that woman is the best power-bar chef this side of either channel!).
A couple of days later I was back in the water again – this time in Donegal. In bright sunshine, myself and buddy Vera Baker ‘Girls on Tour’ headed north with kayaks strapped to the roof of her heroic Jaguar and two bikes jammed inside, along with wetsuits, paddles, running gear, hiking gear, and high heels. What other way to travel? Well as Vera’s son commented wryly as he saw us reverse out – “it wasn’t that we couldn’t do it – but probably that we shouldn’t“!
We hit the ground running when we arrived in Donegal in bright sunshine and instead of heading for shelter and our lovely home for the next three days, we made straight for the beach and launched the boats. It was a good call too; we woke up to winter conditions the following morning, with the mist so thick we could hardly see our boots as we made our way towards Errigal. That solo-navigation stuff in Wicklow helped with my confidence, as we strolled back down the mountain on a bearing and walked straight into the car park to our absolute delight. Boasting to my Mountain Rescue buddies may have been a calculated error however – I’ve been told I’m navigating next time out!
Lots of thanks are due to lots of people after my last set of adventures. Love you all and hugs will be distributed in due course. x